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The Modern GWR

The Economics of HS? – Just get on with it!!!

All the media are going crazy today with the news that the government has approved HS2.  Pete Waterman seems to be having fun with it all, judging by Twitter. Follow him and Christian Wolmar for the sane comments by people who know about railways and have an understanding of history.

Pete is right to say that there has never been an economic case for building railways lines (just as it was Beeching’s and his political masters’ blinkered and unimaginative stupidity that allowed a completely flawed economic argument to close so many expensively and elegantly constructed railway lines that, looking back, we could be developing right now.

The same applies with trams.  Bristol used to have a great tramway network but, even in the 1930s, there was no investment or infrastructural nurturing in the way that Amsterdam and other European cities did routinely.  By the time the Luftwaffe closed it down for us by bombing the electricity generating centre in 1941, it was close to collapse anyway. So, we end up losing a whole infrastructural system of tram technology that is irreplaceble, except at huge expense that frightens the unimaginative.

It is said that when they were preparing to lay the first rails for the first new Manchester Metro line, they dug up the road and found… yes, you guessed it: the old rails on precisely the same alignment.  How much would routine maintenance have cost, compared with complete renewal, I wonder.   I suppose some of them are still there under the tarmac in Bristol because we sure as hell do need them so that we can drag this magnificent city into the century it is actually in. Certainly not some crappy guided bus system but don’t start me on that.

I recently read The Birth of The Great Western Railway, by George Henry Gibbs. His diary, covering a couple of years around 1835, records graphically the immense stresses and strains of being a director of the GWR and if anyone thinks it was easier in those days to drive through land purchase and building logistics, they should read this (Buy it through us – see right hand panel).

He frets endlessly about costs and whether the GWR would ever pay a dividend and sort out all sorts of major issues involved in the construction. Gangs of navvies went on the rampage, trains kept breaking and coming off the rails. It was cutting edge stuff.   Brunel was forever threatening resignation and always needing to be placated and calmed down.   I am sure there was no economic case for the GWR but do we wish it hadn’t been built?  Of course not and  it is the same with HS2, which is small potatoes in comparison.  As Nike say: Just do it!!

Do I make, finally, a backhanded comment about how good the Broader Gauge would be in the context of High Speed travel?? Er,,, no, I dont think so.  Not yet anyway!!!

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